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Choose the Right Word

Choose the Right Word
Expand Your Vocabulary Every Day of Your Life
The English language is a rich one—with over 60,000   words. Yet we understand only a fraction and actually  use a much smaller number. Expansion of one’s usable vocabulary opens the door to clearer communication, the key to successful interaction with others.

Having the right word to express yourself is a precious gift born of reading, speaking, and   studying.  It’s a gift worth cultivating—because when you choose apt words,  you are far more likely to be precise, concise, and interesting to others.   Not surprisingly, the treasury of words most people understand is but a fraction of the 60,000 or so words in our language—and the number  people actually use is even smaller. Increase the number of words in your personal treasury by one a day,  and you will begin to read faster, process information more quickly, express yourselves more clearly and  do your job better.

Follow these simple tips to strengthen your vocabulary—and increase your confidence in both business and social settings.

1. Keep a list of new words you encounter.
When you hear or read a new word, jot it down in context. Be sure to check the meaning  later. That’s important because many words—even those that do not seem difficult— are being widely misused. Livid, for example, means “pale,” not red or purplish.   Panoply is “a complete suit of armor,”  not a wide selection. Enervating means “exhausting,” not energizing. 

2. Distinguish between similar words.
The language abounds with words that look and sound similar but are not interchangeable. To say what you mean, make the correct choice. Top offenders?

  • averse-adverse. Averse imeans  “opposed” or “disinclined towards” (averse to the decision). Adverse means “unfavorable” (adverse weather conditions, adverse publicity).
  • compose-comprise: To compose means “to make up or constitute” To comprise means “to include.” So four departments may compose a division, but the division comprises (or is composed of) four departments.
  • imply-infer:  Speakers  imply or “suggest,” and listeners infer or “conclude.” Therefore, one discusses what a presenter implied, not what he or she inferred. Those who listen   do the inferring.

Other confused pairs:

  • disinterested (neutral) - uninterested  (bored)
  • e.g. (for example) - i.e. (that is)
  • flaunt (to show off) -flout (to desregard)

3. Understand the meanings of common roots and prefixes.
Those who have studied Latin have a leg up when it comes to deducing meanings from unfamiliar words, but many reference books contain helpful lists for study and mastery.
To start you out, here are six invaluable roots:

  • Anthrop—man, as in anthropology (study of man)and misanthrope (hatred of mankind)
  • Bene/bon—good,  as in pro bono  (for the common good) and Benedict (says good)
  • Curs—run, as in cursory (fleeting) and cursive (running handwriting)
  • Luc – light, as in lucid (enlightening)
  • Path—feel, as in empathy (feel with someone) and antipathy (feel animosity)
  • Sequ, secut – follow, as in consecutive (following) and non sequitur (something that does not logically follow)

4. Learn the correct meanings of common foreign words and expressions.
Foreign expressions are easily  folded into the ordinary language of  business world. You might serve on an ad hoc (standing) committee or seek your boss’s imprimatur (stamp of approval).

Others you should know:

  • Carte blanche – free reign
  • Mea culpa – my guilt (acknowledging wrongdoing)
  • Quid pro quo – an equal exchange
  • Vis-à-vis—regarding
  • Zeitgeist – the spirit of the time

5. Expand your brain power with regular exercise.
▪ On the Internet, check Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day or subscribe to another free service.
▪  On an index card record new words.            
▪  Buy a book on vocabulary building that groups words by category.         
▪  Play Scrabble.™ Do Crossword puzzles.

The best route? Be actively attuned to what you read and hear. Make use of on-line or print resources to check meanings.


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Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Susan B. Kline. Copyright © Susan B. Kline 2011. All Rights Reserved. I invite you to reprint material from this website for educational purposes, provided this copyright notice ("Written and edited by Susan B. Kline, © Susan B. Kline [year]. All Rights Reserved.") and a link to sbkline.com is included in the credits.


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